JonBenet Ramsey: The story behind Netflix's new documentary

Twenty years on, Casting JonBenet offers a unique view on the murder that shocked the world

Casting JonBenet
(Image credit: Netflix)

Netflix has announced the release of a new documentary into the murder of US child beauty pageant queen JonBenet Ramsey.

The death of the six-year-old in 1996 made headlines around the world but more than 20 years on, the identity of her killer is still a mystery.

So what will Netflix's documentary Casting JonBenet tell us?

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Who was JonBenet Ramsey?

JonBenet Ramsey was born to Patsy and John Ramsey in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1990, a year before the family moved to Boulder, Colorado.

Patsy, a former Miss West Virginia, entered the little girl in a series of child beauty pageants both in Colorado and in other states. JonBenet won several of them, including a 1995 Little Miss Colorado title and a 1996 America’s Royale Miss title.

How did JonBenet die?

On either 25 or 26 December 1996, JonBenet's body was found by her parents in the basement of their house.

A coroner ruled she had been strangled and had also sustained severe skull fractures.

Patsy had called 911 eight hours earlier, saying JonBenet had been kidnapped. Police were shown a ransom note the couple said had been left in the kitchen of their home.

What was the response?

In the immediate aftermath of the murder, Patsy and John Ramsey came under intense police and media scrutiny, but both strongly denied any involvement in their daughter’s death and were never charged in connection with it.

Police also tested the theory that JonBenet could have been killed by an intruder. However, they found no signs of forced entry into the house, although an unidentified boot mark, assumed to belong to the killer, was later discovered in the wine cellar.

NME reports that lawyers in Boulder had suggested JonBenet’s participation in beauty pageants from such a young age could have made her the target of child abusers.

What is Casting JonBenet about?

Casting JonBenet, which premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival in January to rave reviews, takes a unique approach to the murder. It uses audition tapes of local actors from Boulder playing members of the Ramsey family to discuss the details and theories.

"So many TV movies and so many movies have done the JonBenet Ramsey case," director Kitty Green tells the Chicago Tribune. "I thought that, as an actor, if you’re approaching the role of Patsy Ramsey or John Ramsey and you’re not sure if they’re guilty or innocent, how do you play the character?"

During the auditions, the actors are asked to think more about the murder and discuss where they were and how they felt on hearing the news, reports the Tribune. Some are even asked who they believe committed the murder.

"Their stories are brutally honest, and their hypotheses colored by experiences with parenting, childhood memories and hardship," it says.

"Several break down at the thought of losing a child or the memory of sexual assault."

Casting JonBenet will be released on Netflix on 28 April.

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